New Zealand government announces COVID-19 vaccine mandate for 40% of workers

Around 40% of the workforce will be required to have the jab

New Zealand government announces COVID-19 vaccine mandate for 40% of workers

The New Zealand government has announced a new wide-ranging COVID-19 vaccine mandate, meaning around 40% of the workforce will now be required to have the jab.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said workers at any business that requires a vaccine certificate to enter must be fully vaccinated, which includes hospitality venues, hairdressers and gyms. Under the traffic light system which will come into place once health districts reach the 90% double-dose target, businesses will be able to operate without restrictions on capacity or social distancing. But they must abide by the government's vaccine certificate system, which requires both customers and staff to be fully vaccinated.

“The more people who are vaccinated the safer we all are. That gives us options, and the ability to keep people safe without having to use some of the more blanket restrictions that we’ve used in the past,” Ardern said in a press conference on Tuesday.

Employees requiring the jab will have a deadline of four weeks once the new traffic light system comes into force. Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood said, under these changes, up to 40% of New Zealand’s workforce could be covered by vaccine mandates. He said businesses will need to undertake a "reasonable process" once the mandate comes into force to assess whether unvaccinated staff can be terminated.

A number of sectors have already been required to be vaccinated, including healthcare staff, teachers and disability sector workers. Prior to those groups, mandates were already in place for airport staff, border workers and any employee involved with MIQ. The government is reportedly considering extending the mandate to public sector workers, in particular those in front-facing roles.

New Zealand's Restaurant Association said the mandate is welcome news for hospitality venue owners who have suffered under lockdowns, but warned it will be a challenge for employers to implement.

Marisa Bidois, CEO of the Restaurant Association said: "This is a tricky new area of employment law, and so ensuring that businesses owners are legally empowered to enforce vaccinations in workplaces is a positive step towards ensuring safe and healthy workplaces.
 
“In our discussions with members, feedback has shown some concerns around enforcing a policy that could make employers liable for discrimination on the basis of vaccination status.
 
“Whilst mandating a policy is a welcome step towards helping to keep businesses safe and operational, there is still an ongoing concern around losing valued employees to the mandate.
 
“We need to remember that our industry is still suffering a skills shortage and so rolling this out is going to have to be carefully managed to reduce the risk of losing a percentage of our workforce.”

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